Moments after a federal judge in Utah struck down the state’s request to halt same-sex marriage, there were tears, hugs and high-fives among lesbian and gay couples waiting to wed at county clerks’ offices across the state.
But at the federal courthouse, where the latest clash over these couples’ right to marry was decided Monday, there was little hurrah.
Instead, lawyers who represent the plaintiffs in the case exchanged tenuous smiles and cautious congratulations. They told reporters they were "relieved" rather than thrilled.
They had won the battle, but their fight is far from over.
Just after 11 a.m., U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby denied the state’s motion for a stay that would have stopped marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples, who came out in record-setting numbers throughout the state to seek the licenses.
Shelby refused to accept the state’s claim that allowing same-sex couples to continue marrying in Utah would cause irreparable harm to the state and — eventually — to the couples themselves.
"The reality is this is something of a mess," Shelby said. "But, at its core, the state essentially relies and reasserts arguments it previously submitted to me, arguments I previously considered and rejected. Those findings prevent me from providing a stay today."
Peggy Tomsic, who represents the six plaintiffs in the Kitchen v. Herbert lawsuit, praised the judge outside the courthouse for denying the state’s move to stop marriages.
"It’s awfully easy, I think, to get caught up in the emotion and do a knee-jerk reaction," she said. "Fortunately, we have a judge who takes his oath of office seriously, which is to read, interpret and apply the United States Constitution and not be pressured by a moral or political majority."
It didn’t take long for Utah officials to regroup.
An hour later, state attorneys filed a request with the 10th Circuit Court in Denver for an emergency order that would stop the marriages. It was the state’s third such request since Friday, when the state filed its appeal of Shelby’s ruling with the circuit court in defense of Amendment 3.
The previous two were denied by the high court, which oversees federal appeals out of Utah, for procedural reasons.
Utah’s latest filing asks the 10th Circuit Court to stop same-sex marriages immediately, while the appeals court decides whether to overturn Friday’s decision. The appeals court is not expected to make that decision for at least several months.
Without a stay preventing more marriage licenses from being issued to same-sex couples, Utah Attorney General Philip Lott argued, those months could be wrought with "chaos," "confusion," "injury," and obscured by a "cloud of uncertainty."
The longer same-sex marriage is allowed to continue in Utah, the more licenses will likely be issued and the more couples will likely wed. This, Lott said, will only cause problems for the state, which has not had ample time to prepare for what consequences these unions might have.
"Time is of the essence to stop these marriages by staying the district court’s injunction," according to the state’s motion. "In order to maintain the historic status quo of man-woman marriage that the state and its citizens validly enshrined in the Utah Constitution."
Last week, Utah became the 18th state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex weddings.
But after Monday’s ruling, there was still no definitive answer to how this will impact the Beehive State.
Monday afternoon, the director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget sent an email to Gov. Gary Herbert’s cabinet members requesting a list of state services, programs and policies that might be affected by same-sex marriages.
In the email, which was obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune, Kristen Cox instructs her colleagues to "include a brief outline of the potential impact and conflicts/questions" on their department as a result of the same-sex marriage decision.
During his address in federal court, Lott said strain on state government and resources is just one of the many outcomes of this ruling, which stands to upset Utah’s "status quo."Next Page >
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